Issue 522, 17 May 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Christchurch Call

Expert Reaction: Drug driver testing

In the News: Proposal to mine Foulden Maar

Expert Reaction: Survey shows public behind sustainable whitebait fishery

Expert Reaction: Emissions trading reforms target transparency and compliance

New from the SMC global network

Christchurch Call adopted

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has led world leaders and tech companies to sign the Christchurch Call pledge in Paris to limit the spread of terrorist and extremist content online.

The Call – signed by 17 governments and eight companies including Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, YouTube, and Google – commits tech companies to voluntarily take action on preventing terrorist acts from being livestreamed, to set and enforce better industry standards around terrorist and extremist content, and to review whether their algorithms are driving users towards violent extremist content.   

Speaking from Paris, Jacinda Ardern said: "The internet is made up of vast, complex technological platforms. But they were created by people. They are managed by people. When they harm, they harm people."

"I know that none of you want your platforms to perpetuate and amplify terrorism and extremist violence. But these platforms have grown at such pace, with such popularity, that we are all now dealing with consequences you may not have imagined when your company was just a start-up. Your scale and influence brings a burden of responsibility." 

The day before the meeting was held in Paris, Facebook announced it would restrict users who have broken particular rules from using Facebook Live. Facebook VP of global policy and communications Nick Clegg told reporters in Paris: "Those restrictions, if they had been in place at the time of the Christchurch atrocity, would have prevented the terrorist from using his live account on that day". 

Marianne Elliot, who authored a report out last week on the impact of digital media on democracy, wrote on The Spinoff that the Christchurch Call is "a start, for sure. But because it excludes all other forms of harmful content, it won’t go far in helping governments, researchers or civil society understand, for example, how the algorithms that drive these platforms may be contributing to extremism and radicalisation."

Regulating livestreaming is just one part of social media regulation, the Helen Clark Foundation’s Kathy Errington told Jack Tame on Q+A. “We need more public input into how decisions are made [about what hate speech is]”, she said, which is why the Foundation has proposed New Zealand should set up an independent regulator that includes representation from public interest groups.

The SMC gathered expert reaction ahead of the summit.

Quoted: RNZ

"If you melted all of [the ice in Antarctica] and put it back into the ocean, the sea surface would raise by about 50 metres.

"So that would probably get you about halfway up the Sky Tower in Auckland."

Drug driver testing reform

The Government is seeking public feedback on how drug driver testing can improve road safety.

Minister of Police Stuart Nash said: “irrespective of whether someone is impaired by alcohol, medication or recreational drugs, they shouldn’t be behind the wheel”.

Associate Transport Minister, Julie Anne Genter, told Mike Hosking she wants to find out what the public thinks about the issue before bringing in the new legislation.

"I think it's important that we go out to the public on this and hear from the experts. I want to follow the evidence on what is going to reduce impaired and dangerous driving," she said.

Drug testing behind the wheel isn’t as simple as it is for alcohol because the current drug tests can only detect the presence of drugs or medication – not whether a driver is impaired by a drug.

Dr Fiona Hutton from Victoria University of Wellington told The Spinoff she hoped any legislation would consider the length of time drugs like cannabis linger in the body.

“Roadside testing must not fall into the trap that workplace testing has, and make sure that drivers who are drug tested at the roadside are actually those who are impaired.”

“If someone smokes cannabis on a Saturday night and tests positive on a Monday morning they will have cannabis in their system but not be impaired,” she told the SMC.

Dr Helen Poulsen, a forensic toxicologist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) who analyses samples of hospitalised and impaired drivers for drug use, told RNZ roadside saliva tests are worthwhile – as long as they are backed up by laboratory tests.

However, she cautioned it could take up to four minutes to get a response from a saliva sample and there was a possibility of false positives.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the announcement.

Fight over Foulden Maar 

An application to mine a fossil-rich site near Dunedin for animal food has been met with fierce criticism from environmental scientists.

Foulden Marr Pit. Photo by Kimberley Collins (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A majority-Malaysian company wants to create an open pit mine at the Foulden Maar site to collect diatomite – the fossilised remains of water-borne, single-cell algae called diatoms, which are full of silica deposits – and turn them into pig and cattle feed.

In June last year, scientists were assured they would continue to have access to the site in spite of the mine, but a report leaked to the Otago Daily Times has prompted fears that the applicant, Plaman Resources, intends to fully mine the maar.

Foulden Maar was formed 23 million years ago when a volcano erupted and formed a deep crater lake, Newsroom’s Farah Hancock wrote. The lake has since filled with the sediment from the microscopic diatomite plant and dried out, leaving behind a cache of fossils.

“From a scientific perspective we don’t yet know the importance of what it contains,” said University of Otago geologist Dr Daphne Lee, who wants at least half the site to be preserved in perpetuity.

“If it’s completely destroyed now, in the future people are going to say it would be like destroying Pompeii, ‘Why did you do that?'”

Dr Nic Rawlence, director of Otago University’s paleogenetics lab, told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan that the site was the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere that contained a record of the first major glaciation of Antarctica.

petition has called on the Government to reject Plaman Resources Limited’s application, currently with the Overseas Investment Office, to purchase the neighbouring farm, which would improve the viability of the mining operation.

Policy news & developments

New stroke unit: Auckland City Hospital will get a new $30m stroke and rehabilitation unit, to be completed mid-2020.

Let's Get Welly Moving: The Government has endorsed the city's indicative transport package to ease congestion in Wellington.

Whitebait consultation: Ninety per cent of respondents to a DOC survey agree changes are needed to make the fishery sustainable.

Marine protection: Public views are being sought for a potential marine protection network in an area of the South Island coast and ocean.

Fisheries projects: A total of 63 new fisheries research projects are planned for 2019-2020 to assess stocks and environmental impacts.

Fruit fly: Another Queensland fruit fly has been found within the current Northcote controlled area, bringing the total to eight over the past three-and-a-half months.

NASA interns: Four New Zealand tertiary students have been accepted into the NASA International Internship Programme and awarded New Zealand Space Scholarships. 

E-waste project: The Government is putting $360,000 of funding from the Waste Minimisation fund towards a new facility to recycle e-waste.

NCEA fees removal: Families of secondary students will no longer have to pay fees for NCEA and NZ Scholarship.

Foster care review: Oranga Tamariki will conduct the first-ever full review of the financial assistance provided to foster and other caregivers.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Racism alleged as Indigenous children taken from families – even though state care often fails them
Dominic O'Sullivan, Charles Sturt University

Why New Zealand’s government cannot ignore major welfare reform report
Michael Fletcher, Victoria University of Wellington

How to end Afghanistan war as longest conflict moves towards fragile peace
Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato

The ‘Christchurch Call’ is just a start. Now we need to push for systemic change
Kevin Veale, Massey University

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Last gasp of a dying dolphin. Are we too late to save Māui?
Just over 50 Māui dolphin are left – prompting the government to launch a plan to save them. But is it already too late? writes Andrea Vance for Stuff.

Facial Recognition Ban San Francisco
San Francisco has become the first major American city to ban police and other agencies from using facial recognition technology. The New York Times highlights fears that use of the tech may turn the US into an overly oppressive surveillance state.

Ritual Abuse, Hot Air, and Missed Opportunities
Writing in Science in 1999, Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park) wrote about fake news, science and the media. This blog by Randy Olsson has an interesting reflection on the piece 20 years on.

The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles
Pro Onzo? The images in this article in The Atlantic may make you rethink cheap intra-city transport options, with mountains of bike-share bicycles piling up in China. 

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
How to make a flightless bird

The first thing you notice about a moa skeleton, apart from its enormous size, is the complete lack of wing bones, writes Nic Rawlence. How moa got here and lost their wings in the first place has been one of New Zealand’s greatest evolutionary mysteries.
Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives
Science, Sensationalism, and the Lessons of Insectageddon

To prevent narratives like insectageddon taking root, journalists need to look beyond the hype and easy narratives to convey the messiness and uncertainty of scientific inquiry, writes Teresa Carr on Undark. 
Guest Work
Talking satellites and space in Washington

The annual beanfeast for the US satellite industry is the SATELLITE congress held at the Washington Convention Center.
Out of Space
Spiders’ prey and pitcher plants

Some crab spiders have a mutualistic relationship with the pitcher plant they live in, and drop the crumbs of their fly lunches for the plant, writes Alison Campbell.

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • TechWeek: 20-26 May, nationwide. There are oodles of events all over the country for TechWeek, including the Hamilton Live Local, Work Global Expo, a panel discussion on the role of standards in the digital economy in Wellington, a precision healthcare online webcast, and the future of the space sector in New Zealand talk in Auckland - and those are just some the events on Monday. 
  • Revising the SI: 20 May, Lower Hutt. As of 20 May 2019, the unit of the kilogram will no longer rely on an unstable artefact guarded in a triple locked vault in Paris, but on the invariability of Planck's constant h. An all day event at the Measurement Standards Laboratory has scientists explaining the science behind the changes to the International System of Units (SI) and what this means for the future. There is also a talk in Christchurch about the changes. 
  • Pacific Identity and Wellbeing Scale: 20 May, Auckland. Dr Sam Manuelam will present about how he developed a new Pacific Identity and Wellbeing Scale - a unique psychometric tool grounded on Pacific cultural values. 
  • Sharing your healthcare data: 21 May, Wellington. Angela Ballantyne discusses whether patients have an ethical obligation to share their health data for research.
  • AI debates: 21 May, 22 May, 23 May. Wellington. Three debates running Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday next week will tackle the impact of AI on automation, the impact of technology on education, and AI’s impact on employment.
  • Our borders: 21 May, Wellington. Aotearoa New Zealand’s geographical borders may seem obvious and unproblematic, but their history is more interesting than you may suppose. 
  • A fossil history of life (and death): 21 May, Wellington. Palaeontologists speak about how and why life has developed, the great explosions of biodiversity and the Earth-crunching crises that nearly ended it all.
  • Inspired by Nature: 22 May, Christchurch. Engineer Dr Deborah Munro will talk about her work designing everything from robotic dinosaurs to orthopaedic implants to prostheses and how studying natural movement informed her best solutions.
  • Is good science good enough?: 23 May, Palmerston North. Russell Death gives the Royal Society of New Zealand Manawatu Branch's annual Manawatu Lecture on applying freshwater science to protect New Zealand waterways.
  • Care at the end of life: 24 May, Wellington. People are living longer, but what does this mean for how our oldest citizens are using the health system?
  • Ko Matariki e ārau ana: 23 May, Hamilton; 24 May, Tauranga; 25 May, Whangarei. Rangi Matamua will give several talks on Matariki and highlighting connections between Matauranga Māori and science.
  • Rewind the Future: 19 May, Wellington; 25 May Auckland. Jane Goodall will speak about devoting her life to making a difference for all, and the power of individual action to enable us to change the course of time. 

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